SFX - - Contents - Richard Ed­wards, Edi­tor

Rich cel­e­brates the FS in SF. Take that, Ein­stein, you buzz-killer!

We can all agree that Isaac New­ton and Al­bert Ein­stein were ge­niuses who did more than pretty much any­one to fur­ther our un­der­stand­ing of the uni­verse. When it comes to trav­el­ling around in cool space­ships, how­ever, they’re a bloody nui­sance. New­ton’s laws of mo­tion (in tan­dem with the lack of at­mos­phere in space) make Star Wars-style aer­o­bat­ics in­cred­i­bly prob­lem­atic, while there’s ar­guably no big­ger buzz kill for sci-fi than Ein­stein’s the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity. By pos­tu­lat­ing that noth­ing can travel faster than the speed of light, Ein­stein en­sured that in­ter­stel­lar ad­ven­tures were ren­dered more-or-less im­pos­si­ble – un­less you don’t mind wait­ing (at least) four and a bit years to reach the near­est star.

The Ex­panse is un­usual be­cause it en­gages with the laws of na­ture head on. Con­fin­ing its ac­tion to the So­lar Sys­tem, there­fore ditch­ing the need for faster-than-light travel, its ver­sion of getting around in space is a dan­ger­ous pur­suit – travel means en­dur­ing painful ac­cel­er­a­tions and plot­ting com­pli­cated routes that take ad­van­tage of grav­i­ta­tional sling­shots. It’s one of the most ac­cu­rate por­tray­als of in­ter­plan­e­tary travel we’ve seen on screen – and gives the show a gritty, lived-in feel. But re­al­ity be damned, I love the more out-there ways that sci-fi writ­ers get around physics. Star Trek rel­ishes its fake science so much that books have been writ­ten on how tech that borders on witchcraft could be jus­ti­fied in a sci­en­tific con­text. In­deed, mix­ing mat­ter and an­ti­mat­ter would be a plau­si­ble and ef­fi­cient en­ergy source if we could han­dle them in suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties, while warp drive fudges that “faster-than-light” is­sue by hav­ing star­ships com­press space. Dis­cov­ery’s spore drive, which al­lows the ship to surf a net­work of fun­gus in an in­stant, is so crazy as to be ge­nius. Baby­lon 5 and Bat­tlestar Galac­tica, mean­while, use thrusters to change di­rec­tion at low speeds, but bend re­al­ity by re­sort­ing to “jump gates” and an FTL drive for larger dis­tances. Dune blurs the lines be­tween science and magic by hav­ing its Guild Nav­i­ga­tors use the Spice to “fold” space. And then there’s Star Wars. Star Wars ba­si­cally doesn’t give a shit about science, happy to just have the Mil­len­nium Fal­con do­ing ca­sual loop-the-loops and hop­ping to plan­ets on the other side of the gal­axy in a few hours. And you know what? I’m to­tally cool with that too.

Rich’s per­cep­tion of space-time has rad­i­cally al­tered since he wrote this.

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